The National Center for Law and Economic Justice was founded in 1965 to harness the law as a powerful instrument for improving the lives of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Edward V. Sparer, the Center's founder, made the Center a part of the civil rights movement, in which lawyers worked directly with local communities to bring about social change.
From the very start, NCLEJ joined forces with southern civil rights lawyers and community-based reformers, winning groundbreaking victories in the Supreme Court, advocating for fair and humane treatment of low-income persons, and working to empower grassroots groups to participate in policy debates.
Our landmark victories in the Supreme Court created important rights:
- Goldberg v. Kelly established the due process right to notice and an opportunity for a fair hearing before aid is cut off;
- King v. Smith barred states from denying welfare benefits to families eligible under prior federal welfare law;
- Califano v. Westcott struck down sex discrimination in welfare policies.
As society's commitment to reducing poverty diminished in recent years, we responded by expanding the scope of our work and breaking new ground:
We increasingly used the law to assure that eligible people received vital benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid, and child care benefits as core cash welfare programs shrank.
We opened new vistas in advocacy for persons with disabilities through our leadership in applying disability rights laws to welfare programs.
We transformed welfare-to-work programs so that basic education, skills training, and higher education are routinely offered to those who will benefit from them.
We protected low-wage workers as they moved from welfare to work.
We deepened our engagement with grassroots groups through novel technology programs that help strengthen their ability to participate effectively in public policy debates and expand their electoral outreach.
Our goal has always been – and will continue to be – to truly better the lives of low-income people. We are proud that we have been able to make welfare programs more humane, and have put the focus back on families who need a helping hand.